Like any gamer in the know, whenever a licensed movie game shows up that you need to play, you can usually assume that youre not going to have the best time playing it; usually. When Brave, based on the new Disney Pixar movie, arrived to review, I do what I usually do when I have to play a licensed game: Sit down with my drink of choice (the worse the game the stiffer the drink), take a big gulp and simply accept that Im probably not going to have much fun for the next few hours. Im glad to report that Behaviour Interactive (known for Doritos Crash Course, Naughty Bear, and WET among others) has somehow found the magic formula to not only make a game that was entertaining as fun as the movie was, but also might slightly restore some of my faith in the licensed movie game genre. Even if this game wasnt based on the new movie which I really enjoyed, I would have still appreciated playing it start to finish regardless of it being meant for kids.
Firstly, if youve not seen the Brave movie yet, which this game is based on, go do so, as it was wonderful in 3D and I thoroughly enjoyed it before even playing the game. Many times these movie based games will either be a simple retelling of the movie or something completely different from the movie that it doesnt seem to fit at all. Theyve done something smart with this tie in, as its not a complete retelling, but the basic premise stays the same where it still feels similar enough that the kids will enjoy it.
Just like in the movie, Brave is based around Merida, daughter of King Fergus and Queen Elinor and picks up right when she follows the trail of wisps into the woods and comes across the old witch. Merida orders a potion from this witch to change her mother, as she wants to find her daughter a husband even with Merdias refusal. The potion is question ends up changing Elinor, though not quite as expected, as she is now transformed into a bear. I wont go into the story much more in case youve yet to see the movie (remember to do so!), but from here it takes its own slight twist that differentiates itself when compared to the film. The games version of the story really only works because its in a videogame format and entices the player to progress, as it would make the movie a tad long and boring if it was switched around.
Merida was taught well by her father in the ways of using a sword and shield, and the bulk of gameplay in Brave is combat and platforming down linear paths. You first start out with your basic training sword and bow, though very quickly on youll see that youll really only use sword attacks (the X button) to chop down plants and rocks to gather coins. Your bow however is Meridas specialty, as she can shoot an infinite of bows in any direction with the Right Stick. This essentially turns the gameplay into a twin stick shooter (very Smash TV-like) for the combat sections and really surprised me with how well it worked. The only issue I had was a few spots where you need to jump and shoot simultaneously, as you only have one thumb to do both actions awkwardly. Combat feels fluid, tight, and simply fun once you get the hang of dodging and shooting.
As you progress in the story, Merida will come across Charms that infuse her weapons with elemental powers. You start off with Earth but will eventually gain Fire, Air, and lastly Ice. Every enemy type has a weakness to a specific element, and while not impossible to defeat them with the wrong element, they will go down much quicker if you use the correct one, which is easy since the right element is above their heads so you can never forget (its not hard to remember Fire vs Ice and Earth vs Air though). Changing elements is simple as pressing the Left and Right Bumpers and having to fend of multiple types of enemies in the latter half of the game is quite fun when you need to change your Charms quite rapidly. There are even many spots where youll need to use specific elemental shots to open a pathway to progress. Shooting a vine with Earth will cause it to form a leaf platform you can jump on, or an Ice shot on some fire to make it cool enough to walk on. Eventually it becomes second nature and youll never become stuck on these sections as everything is labeled as to what type of shot to use.
When you defeat enemies, cut down bushes, and destroy rocks and trees, coins will fly out everywhere for Merida to gather and collect. Doing so is the games currency and allows you to purchase upgradable abilities at specific spots. You can upgrade an ability you really enjoy using up to three times or spread out your abilities across each element to always be prepared for whats next. Power shots can be purchased and upgraded, and while not really needed on the default difficulty level, its almost a necessity on the hardest setting.
For those that have more than one kid in the household, Brave also supports a second player to help Merida in her travels. While playing co-op, the second player will control a friendly wisp that can do simple actions to help out Merida and is more geared towards a younger child who just wants to play along their parent or sibling. While my wife wasnt all that great at playing the main character, she enjoyed the simplicity of being a wisp and helping me; the same will go for kids and the younger gamers still learning.
There are times where youll be passing control from Merida and instead playing as her younger brothers, the triplets. In these sections its simply a quick little puzzle that will have you switching from one of the baby bears to the next, pulling levers, and solving the puzzle so that Merida can continue on in her quest. There are even a few sections where youll be playing as mum in her bear form, mauling down a huge amount of enemies and gathering you a big stock of coins for all the trouble. Were these sections really needed? Not really, but they were a nice little distraction to break up the rest of the gameplay now and then.
If youre a Kinect owner then theres even another mode accessible from the main menu just for you. You get to pretend you have Meridas prowess in archery and will be shooting your imaginary arrows at the screen in three separate mini games. Quick Draw tests how fast you can fire, Survival has you shooting an unlimited amount of targets, and Quiver Limit has you testing your accuracy with a set amount of arrows. The biggest surprise of this mode though is that for doing well you will actually earn coins which you can then use in your main game to get more upgrades quicker. While these mini games are fun to play through once or twice, the inaccurate controls doesnt make it very fun in the end; its a good thing its just an optional mode for those with Kinect.
For a game that only took me a few hours to complete, I was hoping it would have a lot of replay value to justify the asking price. Sure, there are some reasons to play through levels again, like gathering more coins to keep upgrading skills and to find any of the collectables you may have missed the first time, but aside from that, there really wasnt much reason to keep playing after its been completed. If you want to up the difficulty, youll have to start a new game and thus start all over again, not keeping all the coins and abilities youve already gained.
The fact that Disney made sure the game had the same voice actor for Merida speaks volumes, not only on its audio quality, but also the effort in not just trying to make this a cash-in from the movie. The sound of the forests, background music, instruments, all work well together, and you wont even have to suffer through hearing the same lines being repeated over and over again which many games of this type still get wrong today.
By the end of the game Merida will have a bow thats larger than her and can defeat any enemy very quickly, but thats where much of the fun comes. While the game itself looks decent, most of the cutscenes are simply done in a story book style with little animation. As for game mechanics, while its very simple and smooth to use, its not very challenging until the very end. Im also glad that there is no forced back tracking in the levels or having to redo levels at a later date to find all the hidden collectables once you unlock newer Charms.
If youve seen the movie and enjoyed it and have a kid thats asking for a new game, I can safely say that I would recommend Brave and still have a clear conscience. This is an odd feeling, playing a licensed movie game that I actually enjoyed as an adult and honestly endorsing to parents. The only negatives I really have to say about the game is its lack of replayability and shortness to complete. If it helps at all, the game does include a voucher to redeem for eight dollars towards a movie ticket admission if youre planning on going to see Brave in the theaters. I was brave and played through the game to tell you if its worthy of a purchase or not, now its your turn to do so and go see the movie and hopefully purchase a great tie-in game as well.